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Raanta drawing interest as Rangers face prospect of losing netminder in expansion draft

Antti Raanta is unlikely to remain a Ranger if he's exposed in the expansion draft, so could New York look to move the netminder before the Golden Knights come calling?

As the expansion draft approaches, the New York Rangers find themselves in a bind. Unlike others, it’s not that the Blueshirts have too many quality forwards or so much depth on the blueline that a skater has to be moved or lost for nothing. Rather, after a season in which Henrik Lundqvist had arguably the worst showing of his career, New York heads towards expansion facing the prospect of losing an important piece between the pipes in Antti Raanta.

The prospect of losing Raanta makes the Rangers one of few teams who are facing some serious concerns about expansion from a goaltending perspective. Matter of fact, it’d be fair to say that no other club is quite as worried about goaltending heading into expansion as New York. While the Washington Capitals could lose Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby is in the prime of his career and has been a top Vezina Trophy contender in each of the past three seasons. The Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, are facing the possibility of losing Laurent Brossoit, but the loss would be mitigated by Cam Talbot’s play over the past campaign. In New York, though, losing Raanta would put the onus on Lundqvist to find his game in a hurry.

That may be easier said than done, too. This past season wasn’t just below the standard Lundqvist, a Vezina winner and one of the game’s best over the past decade, has set for himself, it was below the standard most would set for an average NHL goaltender. This past season, the league average was a .913 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against average. Lundqvist posted .910 and 2.74 marks, respectively. His SP was the worst Lundqvist has posted since his third season, back in 2007-08, while his GAA was more inflated than ever.

And that’s why Raanta was so important. As Lundqvist went through his uncharacteristic struggles, Raanta an effective last line of defense for the Rangers. In 30 games, the 27-year-old turned in a .922 SP and 2.26 GAA, not to mention the sixth-best 5-on-5 SP of any goaltender to play at least 1,000 minutes. But Raanta’s play is also exactly why New York is in this position, why the Rangers could be set to lose the netminder who was as important to their success as any other player.

Obviously, given the upcoming expansion draft, the obvious scenario is Raanta remains on the Rangers heading into the Golden Knights’ draft period, Vegas takes the netminder and he ends up playing for the expansion franchise. It’s a move that would make sense for the Golden Knights, too. Raanta comes cheap — he has one year at $1 million left on his deal — and his performance is a sign he could be ready for a heavier workload. Plus, if Raanta stumbles, it’s not as if landing the netminder was a big gamble for Vegas, especially on a short-term commitment.

Raanta could make the most out of a chance in Vegas, as well. The one-year term on his current deal allows for him to prove he’s worthy of an extension and ink it with a Golden Knights club that will have a lot of money to spend.

But Raanta ending up in Vegas isn’t a fait accompli. As with other teams facing a potential loss with no gain — like, say, the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild — the option exists for a pre-expansion trade. And there are reportedly some suitors who have called the Rangers about Raanta. Over the weekend, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported that two teams in particular, the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, have called New York GM Jeff Gorton to inquire about Raanta.

Goaltending became a major talking point in Winnipeg this past season as the Jets were often left hoping, begging and praying for saves each night. The only teams that received worse goaltending were the Dallas Stars and near-historically bad Colorado Avalanche, and despite the fact the Jets scored the seventh-most goals of any team during the regular season, Winnipeg finished with a minus-nine goal differential. The Stars, Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes were the only teams to allow more goals against than Winnipeg’s 255.

That’s where Raanta would come in. There’s little doubt that Connor Hellebuyck is sticking with the Jets through expansion, but that is to say nothing of Michael Hutchinson, who has one year left on his current contract and is almost a lock for expansion exposure. And if Hutchinson is exposed and goes, the Jets will need someone to crack the lineup as their backup or potential split-time starter with Hellebuyck. Raanta would fit the bill. Truthfully, he’d remain an option even if Hutchinson were to go unselected in the expansion draft. There’s no way the Jets don’t at least attempt to improve their goaltending situation in time for 2017-18, and few would suggest that Raanta isn’t an improvement over Hutchinson, who has turned in a mere .905 SP over the past two seasons.

The move that makes less sense, however, is for the Flames to chase after and give up anything significant to land Raanta, at least not if Calgary is doing so with a starting gig in mind. Again, with how well he played in 2016-17, it’s understandable where the interest comes from — possibly even more so given the Flames need only look down the road to see another former Rangers backup starring in goal. But what Calgary needs is a guaranteed starter. Raanta, with his 94 career games in four seasons, isn’t that, no matter how well he played this past season. And one year removed from yet another shaky performance between the pipes, it’s hard to imagine the Flames would go with another unestablished No. 1.

That’s not to say a Raanta acquisition should absolutely be off the table for the Flames, but it’s the kind of move Calgary should only be looking to make if there’s another, sure-thing starter on the way. Adding Raanta to a crease that also includes Marc-Andre Fleury, for instance, would at least give Calgary two options in goal, which is something the team would love to have after years of disappointing performances from their netminders. Over the past four seasons, only the Oilers and Stars have had worse goaltending, so Calgary needs to find stability in goal. Wagering that Raanta can provide that by himself is risky.

But be it the Golden Knights, Jets, Flames or otherwise, Raanta’s play throughout the past campaign has clearly generated enough interest in the netminder that it seems certain he’ll be headed elsewhere this summer. The big question is where he finds himself and what role he’s asked to fill.

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